On this Good Friday, I made rounds in the hospital on the pediatrics ward, tending to about thirty children with ailments ranging from HIV and malnutrition to pneumonia and diarrhea. As the on-call doctor, I also checked the other wards, emergency department and labor & delivery unit. In the bustle, a nurse summoned me to the medical ward to assist with a patient who had just arrested. I recognized him as a young man I admitted to the hospital a few days ago for a central nervous system infection of unclear cause. Over the last couple days his condition worsened and although we eventually identified the tuberculosis in his spinal fluid, our interventions were too late. As we gave medications and attempted to restart his heart and breathing, his brother looked on. After several minutes, I instructed our nursing staff to stop their efforts and told him, "Em i dai pinis" - "He is dead" He collapsed onto his brother and wailed in grief.
To lose a patient, a young man perhaps half my age, on the same day that I remembered Christ's own death and suffering on our behalf made me ponder how much further we have to go in order to see His completed work in our world.
After checking on our nursery, I went to the emergency department to see a baby of four months struggling to take breaths with a low pulse - barely alive. The baby was born at Kudjip in December and was diagnosed with multiple congenital abnormalities affecting the brain, heart and other systems. Although the mother knew her son would not live long, she lovingly cared for him until Friday. I counseled and prayed with her, and tears flowed freely as the pain of her son's death sank in. I was struck by her example. That she spent every day for months in a bittersweet reality of enjoying this life but knowing it was coming to a steady end.
In the book of John, after Christ is crucified, Mary goes to visit the tomb in which his body lay. Seeing the stone removed she quickly tells the disciples. After seeing that their friend's body has been taken away from them, they return home. But Mary chooses to endure the grief. She remains in the garden, weeping.
Why did she stay there? Jesus was dead. The disciples left. Even the body of her Lord was gone. Why remain in a place where reminders of loss, tragedy and grief surrounded her? This moment in scripture has powerfully shaped my ongoing work in the rugged highlands of Papua New Guinea. I think that Mary gives us an example, like my patient's mother, that God may use the times that seem darkest to make even small lights appear bright. Because of Mary's willingness to simply weep, she became the first person the risen Christ chose to reveal himself to. Perhaps God wants those who suffer to endure those times of loss because it highlights the Resurrection. Not to minimize the suffering - but to contrast it against a sharp relief of hope.
On this Easter Sunday, when I celebrate a risen Christ, may the dark and empty places in my world not frighten me away. Instead, may they foster in me a patient expectation for the resurrected Lord.